The two candidates vying for the House seat in District 79 come with vastly different resumes.
Sharon Treat, the incumbent Democrat, has been in the State House for 20 of the last 22 years. She has been the district’s state representative since 2006. Before that, she was a state senator for eight years and a state representative for six previous years.
Treat, 56, lives with her partner, Robert Collins, in Hallowell.
William Guerrette III, the Republican candidate, studied business management at Brigham Young University and has spent the last four years managing Sun Tan City’s 18 locations in Maine and New Hampshire owned by his father and two uncles. Guerrette also owns and rents apartments in Waterville and Skowhegan for his real estate business.
Guerrette, 28, lives in West Gardiner with his wife, Vanessa, and 9-month-old son, Willie IV.
Despite having no political experience, Guerrette said his experience in the private sector will benefit him as representative. He sees his lack of political experience as an advantage because he said people in politics for a while can lose touch with the larger reality.
“Not being a career politician or having a career in politics is a good thing for my campaign,” he said, adding that politicians will sometimes make decisions in the best interest of their political careers instead of their constituents.
Treat said the experience has given her the knowledge and connections to propose effective and successful legislation.
From the long list of legislation she’s proposed, Treat said she’s especially proud of her bills to improve health care for Mainers, including a health care bill of rights passed in 2009 and bills to make prescription drugs cheaper for the elderly and to better protect them from unfair health insurance sales practices. Treat said several of her bills were repealed or funding for them was cut by the 125th Legislature.
Guerrette commended the last Legislature for rolling back some business regulations that were hurting small businesses.
“I appreciate the pivot in making Maine a more business friendly state,” he said, adding that Gov. Paul LePage and the last Legislature accomplished this with mixed success.
Guerrette said he objected to LePage making pension reform a priority when he first took office. He said it reflected more of a national narrative then a pressing need of Maine.
“The hard-working people of Maine — the public and private sector — are not the problem of Maine,” he said.
Guerrette thinks a key to improving Maine’s economy is to fix structural issues with welfare programs that don’t provide enough incentive to get people back to work.
“In Maine, people are really concerned with entitlement programs that are designed for lower income people but don’t really get people out of poverty,” he said
People are particularly worried about families who have been on welfare programs for generations, he said. Guerrette said having some type of safety net, especially for the disabled, is necessary, but it should only be temporary for able-bodied adults.
“I think the really key thing is training people to get back into jobs,” Guerrette said. He’s in favor of tying welfare benefits to programs that will train people for the workforce, especially in the technical fields, he said.
To boost its economy, Treat said the state should invest in research and development that could lead to the development of products manufactured in Maine.
“To me, there’s no reason why Maine can’t be a manufacturing state,” she said.
She also said Maine needs to do a better job of marketing itself and its products.
Treat was a strong supporter of the Legislature’s research and development bond that was vetoed by LePage in May. The Senate overrode it, but the House sustained the veto when supporters failed to get a two-thirds majority. She said the R&D bond was designed to help develop cutting edge research that could then be turned into a marketable product.
“We should be spending money on that. There are times when bonding does make sense. This is one of those,” Treat said.
Guerrette said he generally doesn’t agree with bonds, and that they’ve been used to be fiscally irresponsible for years in Maine.
“Better education, better roads. Everybody wants these things, but there’s no money for it,” he said.
Guerrette criticized his opponent, saying that Maine has become less competitive nationally during the 20 years Treat served and that unnecessary taxes were implemented.
“They thought the way to fix this problem was with more taxes,” he said.
Treat said in her time as a legislator, she’s made connections with people from around the country, which is important for finding new solutions to problems in Maine. She said state legislators need to look around the country to see if others have find new ways to solve similar problems.
Paul Koenig — 621-5663